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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Spring Hill Elementary para-teacher resigns amid ‘witch hunt’

BROOKSVILLE – A Spring Hill Elementary School para-teacher resigned last month after being accused of yelling at, and picking up students and removing them from the school’s cafeteria.

Connie M. Kessler resigned Jan.30, her letter states.

The school contacted Florida Department of Children and Families over the Jan. 17 incident, per district policy, since the incident involved alleged physical student contact, a district investigation into the matter shows.

Kessler was suspended with pay until her resignation.

The allegations stemmed primarily from a YMCA paraprofessional who filed an incident report stating Kessler threw a child’s lunch on the floor, flung a child over her shoulder, “roughly” picked up another student partially over her shoulder, screamed at students in line as they were getting their lunch, and threw money and a tag at the paraprofessional and spoke rudely to her, district documents show.

District documents also show this is the only alleged first-hand account of the incident, and the other reports were based on what the YMCA paraprofessional told other staff at the school.

“I did not throw any one’s lunch on the floor or throw money or a tag at (the YMCA employee),” Kessler wrote to district administrators. “This is an out and out lie. These statements are coming from a young and inexperienced girl who never had this task given to her before that day and just didn’t know how to handle it.”

Kessler said one of the students “had a meltdown” in the cafeteria because he did not want to be inside and wanted to go for his usual walk with the teacher, as she has been doing with him during rest time all that week.

The other student Kessler led out of the cafeteria by the wrist, Kessler said during the investigation.

“As I said before he does not transition well and as a result he had a meltdown in the cafeteria, so I put my hands under his arms to scoop him up in a loving motherly manner and take him from an area he did not want to be in to begin with,” Kessler wrote. “I did this quickly so I could get him back to the classroom, where he was happy to be playing with the manipulatives.”

“I didn’t throw him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes,” she said during a Jan. 31 predetermination meeting. “I did not hurt any of the children. I have not hurt any child in the eight years I have been here.”

Another teacher at the school reported Kessler returned to her classroom from taking students to lunch and had one student with her who was crying hysterically.

The teacher also wrote in an incident report Kessler was frustrated to the point of visibly shaking and explained the trip to lunch was a “cluster (expletive),” according to district documents.

Kessler has been made aware through past training not to pick up students, according to the report, and any physical contact with students is to be done in a trained and professional manner.

Parents were informed about the situation and the DCF investigation, according to district documents, and most parents seemed appreciative. Others were annoyed by and doubted the allegations against Kessler.

Assistant Principal Nancy Johnson wrote in her report that one teacher who filed a complaint against Kessler was reporting not what she saw, but what she was told by the YMCA paraprofessional assisting Kessler that day, according to district documents.

Kessler also made mention of this in her resignation letter and said she felt the original complaint was retaliation by the YMCA employee.

“I criticized (the YMCA employee’s) actions to her teacher and told her that her future help was not needed and bad help is worse than no help at all,” Kessler wrote. “This is a case of an adult that had her feelings hurt with a little truth thrown in her face specifically (the YMCA paraprofessional) and she didn’t like it.”

Kessler went on to say the others were orchestrated to write complaints and verify the start of a “witch hunt” against her.

“I have done nothing but care about the children I had in my classes for eight years and for this accusation to have been thrown in my face at this time is pathetic,” Kessler wrote.

Kessler ended her letter by saying, due to the conspiracy and lies and false innuendo, she feels it would be difficult, if not impossible, to continue work in an environment where people feel the way they do about her, as expressed in the incident reports.

“There are days when it’s harder than others and I have been hit, bitten, kicked, pulled down and spit at, but for the most part these are far and few compared to the normal chores of the day,” Kessler wrote. “I’m only human.”

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